Good fleet management is all but essential to the Mining industry. Mine managers need to keep track of valuable assets and personnel in remote – sometimes, dangerous – areas. They need to ensure that those assets are being optimally utilised, and schedule regular maintenance of equipment and vehicles to keep things running smoothly, with as little downtime as possible.
With so much scope and scale to leverage new technologies, innovation is fast paced within the industry. Mining managers are focused on keeping assets and personnel safe, ensuring constant access to their full fleet by regularly scheduling maintenance, achieving their green goals by lowering their carbon footprint, lowering their operational costs, and improving their bottom line. With these KPIs front of mind, MiX Telematics has identified key technology trends within the industry that are set to advance mining capabilities within the next decade.
10 emerging technology trends
Mining is a dangerous profession. Often, mines are located in very remote areas, sites can be vulnerable to theft, mistakes can be very costly, and serious accidents can happen in a heartbeat. Mining companies spend millions of dollars every year, undertaking safety precautions and checks to safeguard their valuable assets, mined materials, and personnel. Compliance is also critical to the safe operation of heavy-duty mining equipment and these necessary measures can be labour-intensive.
It is useful for mining managers to have a full and detailed view of daily operations. This is so they can monitor their workforce and ensure that everyone is operating within stipulated parameters, track their more valuable assets, better manage their fleet, and monitor their KPI targets both historically and in real-time. Having an “eye in the sky” is incredibly useful for the purpose of enhancing safety, security, and productivity. A drone can safely access and assess more dangerous areas of the mine and quarry, giving managers comprehensive details of operations in progress and of any needed interventions. Mined materials can also be better secured by having a bird’s eye view of stockpiles. This advanced surveillance footage can be accessed by any number of employees, on-site or remotely. Effective use of drones on mining sites can have the following benefits:
Mining companies require managers to stay on top of safety concerns, efficiency challenges, and asset health. This last duty is especially important because it affects everything else. When an asset, vehicle or piece of equipment breaks down and requires downtime to repair, money is lost every hour it is out of commission. The ability to print any and all necessary parts on-site could save a huge amount of time, be a very convenient fix, and ultimately, improve a mining company’s bottom line.
Autonomous technologies have certain benefits that cannot be overlooked. Mining companies that implement automation technologies will quickly realise a significant increase in productivity and a decrease in expenditure. Some companies have seen productivity rise as much as 15-20% as they adopted new technologies. The industry will also benefit from considerable increases in safety. By using automated equipment that can be maneuvered into unsafe areas and difficult locations, mining companies can send fewer miners underground while extracting a higher output, with low risk to their employees. For example, since implementing autonomous technologies in several of its African mines, Randgold Resources has seen a 29% quarter on quarter injury rate improvement.
With such significant gains to be made, it’s no wonder that mining companies across the world are rapidly adopting the latest automation technology to modernise their operations. For example, in four of Rio Tinto’s iron ore mines in Australia, the company uses 73 driverless trucks to haul iron ore 24-hours a day. Mine employees oversee the vehicles’ operation from 750 miles away at Rio Tinto’s centralised control centre in Perth. 8,500 miles to the west, Swedish mine operator Boliden, has partnered with cell phone company Ericsson, to build an autonomous gold mine. The 5G network Ericsson installed at the site allows the mine’s ventilation system to save 18 megawatts of energy per year, an efficiency gain of 54%. In the United States, Barrick Gold Corporation has partnered with Cisco Systems to integrate Wi-Fi sensors in its mines near Elko, Nevada, to track the output of every miner. Barrisk is using this and other automated technologies to achieve its goal of lowering its production cost to US$700 per ounce of gold. In Africa, both Randgold Resources and AngloGold Ashanti use robotic loaders 800m below the surface in the companies’ joint venture Kibali Mine, to drive output and improve worker safety.
This rapidly shifting landscape is expected to provide substantial value to the mining sector and its stakeholders. One report suggests that the combination of increased productivity and safety with decreased expenses may cause the mining automation market to grow by almost 50% in the next six years, reaching US$3.29 billion by 2023.
GPS Tracking and telematics solutions allow mining companies to connect their business with a single, integrated platform that monitors equipment, assets, and fleet vehicles. From extraction to distribution, GPS Tracking can manage every aspect of a company’s assets including lighting towers or generators, right through to heavy vehicles like trucks, buses, and state-of-the-art machinery in mines. Improving asset utilisation and fleet management, increases efficiency and productivity while reducing operating expenses. Live monitoring, real-time alerts, improved equipment performance, better scheduling, reduced fuel costs, advanced reporting, and improved safety measures can help keep mine managers better apprised of all site processes and personnel and improve a company’s bottom line.
Mining companies are always looking to reduce their electricity bill and improve their carbon footprint for the purpose of longevity within the industry. Futureproofing a mining operation means slashing as many operational costs as possible, and demonstrating a commitment to corporate responsibility to stakeholders, shareholders, and customers. Renewable energy can help keep them turning over consistent profits for many years to come.
The three technology areas that mining companies are investing in the most are data analytics, digital connectivity, and integrated automation. This is not a surprise when you consider the huge push over the last few years towards getting remote mine sites digitally connected to the network as the starting point to allow for other applications and programs to be built and run. Robust digital architecture is extremely important when it comes to automation and data analytics. Especially the latter, as mine sites generate and capture a significant amount of data.
Mine managers need an easy-to-use SaaS platform to safely collect, analyse, and manage all their data in one place. If all assets, vehicles, and equipment can be integrated, managers can drill down into rich data sets to access actionable insights that can streamline site processes, saving time and money. Investment in areas like cloud infrastructure, AI, and IoT will hugely benefit mining companies focused on data security and all the benefits of automation.
Finding the right people, with the right skills, and retaining them as the assets they are to your company, are some of the biggest challenges for industry leaders. Increasingly, mining employees are required to work with cutting-edge technologies which require a more advanced, modern skillset. For example, miners working with automated drilling rigs that are operated remotely using detailed telemetry and multi-camera vision, must be able to read and analyse the data and images generated to make quick and critical real-time decisions.
The recent global pandemic framed the need to digitalise as many mining operations as possible. It is near impossible to protect a workforce working in close and cramped quarters from a highly infectious virus. When COVID was at its height, mining companies had to adapt to new health and safety regulations. Social distancing required that fewer workers worked a shift together and certain areas of sites were adapted for better sanitation and ventilation. This cost the industry millions of dollars in COVID precautions, safety measures, and lost productivity. The need for rapid investment in digitalisation became clear and we expect to see it extend to many more areas of mining in the coming couple of years.
Safety and compliance have been a key focus in mining for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only raised more health and safety issues. Fortunately, technological advancements are helping to drive safety and compliance in mines worldwide. The transition to more automated and technology-enabled mine sites has helped reduce or remove some of the traditional risks of mining, protecting the health and wellbeing of employees, and increasing productivity and efficiency to boot.
By removing human input and establishing a single source of truth for data, organisations can reduce the impact of issues such as double handling and inaccuracies. The next most common application of technology to safety and compliance is lift safety, collision avoidance, real-time fleet and asset scheduling, employee training and accident tracking and reporting.
Digitally enabled solutions such as sensors, drones and technology-based procedures have helped make it easier and less dangerous for mine workers to operate plant equipment. For instance, vehicles used in haulage often have built-in alarms and auxiliary safety functions helping to reduce the likelihood of accidents, and therefore, injuries and deaths.
Eventually, technology could diminish the need for humans to be on-site at all, decreasing the possibility of human error. Industry experts expect that the mines of the future will be at least partially digital, with fewer, if any, humans at the coalface.
The reason mining companies are so dependent on telematics is because many of our platforms give them critical insights into on-site operations, allow them to deep dive into big data, and help to prevent terrible accidents and loss of life. Fleet management and telematics solutions are key drivers for the innovative technological trends we see emerging, as described above.
Telematics benefits to the mining industry include:
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Find out which of our GPS Tracking and fleet management solutions can help futureproof your mining fleet, here.